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My first night at Kabob Palace was one of many visits to the ethnic restaurants along South Eads Street in Crystal City. I returned with the same company in a similar state. One night we tried Punjab Kabob’s chicken karahi, a hearty curry served in its metal cooking vessel with a side of freshly baked Naan. We were starving.

My buddy Shayan, who is of Bengali descent, tore off a piece of freshly baked bread and dove into the karahi, fingers first.

I was curious. I’d used a hunk of pita as a utensil to dish out hummus or tabbouleh, but karahi was another animal. The chicken dish was more of a stew, and there wasn’t enough bread to scoop every bite. I’d never eaten anything this soupy with my fingers. I got a few pointers, noting his fingers were only messed to his first knuckle. But by the end of the meal I had curry on my elbows.

I’ve since gotten better with my hands, and now can’t imagine eating Indian food with a fork. Using your hands adds a completely new dimension to a meal. It’s a visceral and tactile exploration that leaves your fingernails yellowed with turmeric, and your finger tips laced with spice.

I dined with Sudhir Seth once after an interview about his restaurant Passage to India, and he noted that my use of my hands impressed him. I felt proud. Yet when I’m at a table full of utensil users, with clanking silverware, I feel something closer to shame using my fingers. I won’t deny myself though. A curry’s not a curry unless I feel it glistening between my fingertips, touching pickles and rice to mix to make the perfect bite.

Eating with my hands: It’s my guilty pleasure.

What’s yours?

Photo by rubber_slippers_in_italy, via Flickr Creative Commons, Attribute License